The sooner Sir Clive Woodward gets a job at Twickenham – in addition to a performance director, the Rugby Football Union is now looking for a chief executive, and the former England manager is believed to be interested – the better. This is not to make any claim or campaign on Woodward's behalf. It is simply to identify the shortest and most straightforward method of ending seven years of tedious and divisive speculation over whether he has an indispensable vision for the RFU and English rugby. If Woody is the man, his hour has come. Let him put up or shut up, once and for all.
Rarely has a month passed in the seven years since Woodward walked out on the RFU when the idea of him returning has not been mooted.There was a close run thing in the summer of 2006 when Woodward and Rob Andrew went for the job of elite rugby director; Andrewgot it.
In March 2010, for no obvious reason as no vacancy then existed, The Times painted a picture of Woodward meeting Martin Johnson, England's manager since 2008, outside the Twickenham gates on a dream ticket gilded by the golden memoryof their parts in the 2003 World Cup and Grand Slam victories. It kicked off the latest run of ructions which saw John Steele appointed as the chief executive in June last year, apparently with a will to include Woodward in his shake-up of the union, and depart last Friday with that deed not having been done.
Woodward's most fervent advocates say they have seen his top-to-bottom blueprint for the game, and it works – or would work, given the chance.
Anyone with an interest in the game in its motherland had a choice of reference points over the last two days. On Friday afternoon you could tune in to the World Under-20 Championship in northern Italy, where England's Grand Slam winning side of this year overcame Ireland in a nip-and-tuck opening match. Owen Farrell, a leading character in the recent Premiership final between Saracens and Leicester, was at it again, coming on from the bench to join the possibly even more promising fly-half George Ford.
Yesterday morning you could have gloried in the talent of Dan Carter, a fly-half with no peer in England, creating a sumptuous winning try for the Crusaders in a match relocated to a small and joyously packed stadium in Timaru in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake. Carter's All Blacks are the odds-on favourites to win the World Cup three months from now. England are currently 9-1 shots and ranked fifth in the world.
Alternatively, you may have missed all this because your head was buried in the long and lurid newspaper tales of the RFU "snakepit", "civil war" and laugh-out-loud statements by the governing body's chairman that Steele lost his job in part because he had sent an email about cancelling an interview with Woodward in March, rather than getting on the phone to the other two members of the recruitment panel.
Both of these extremely influential figures are part-time, essentially amateur rugby administrators. Bill Beaumont, a former England captain, serves on the International Rugby Board when he is not running the family textiles business; Martyn Thomas, the RFU chairman, is a lawyer whose full-time occupation is farming in west Wales. These men
say England's lowly world ranking is "unacceptable", although you trust they do not excuse themselves, as long-serving RFU men, from a shared responsibility for it. Their support for Woodward to return to the fold is taken as read. It is the means of making that happen that has caused the recent aggro, which needed a hard man of outstanding statesmanship to negotiate. Steele, sadly for him, did not have that steel.
You can bet with greater confidence than investing a fiver on the All Blacks for the World Cup that there will be calls for the whole amateur-professional set-up of the RFU to be reappraised and redesigned. Out with the old, in with – well, who?
Every sport and indeed countless private companies operate in this way: paid, full-time employees shoulder to shoulder with non-executive directors whose advice and experience is valued. Of course it is dysfunctional – viz the FA and Fifa to name two examples – but no one has come up with a better model.
Rugby union is a small world in which a few men make key decisions and hardly anything is secret. We revel in the hackneyed phrase "what goes on tour, stays on tour" while describing those same antics and escapades we are not supposed to know about. The RFU's supposedly confidential process of hiring a performance director leaked like a shattered soilpipe: stinking and undermining.
If Thomas is reckoned to have pushed too hard for Woodward, he may fall. For now Thomas is the acting chief executive, and he said: "You can make all the best structures in the world but the critical situation is the appointment that you make. An organisation with a turnover of £120million has to have an individual that takes responsibility at the top of the tree." If that man is Woodward, let the RFU get it done and pray that it leaves the game in peace.